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Irish overcome slow start, show promise

Joe Meixell | Tuesday, February 15, 2005

When Notre Dame opened the GRU Classic tournament this weekend with back-to-back losses on Friday, most opponents counted them out. But coach Deanna Gumpf and her team knew the Irish still had something to prove.

“It was all about attitude, and I think this team proved it in the final three games,” Gumpf said. “It’s just a matter of making a mental decision, deciding whether to play their game or someone else’s. When this team sets a tone, they can beat anybody.”

Coming back on Saturday with an aura of confidence and determination, Notre Dame battled to win games against Coastal Carolina and No. 21 South Florida, moving the Irish into Sunday’s title game. With the tournament on the line, the Irish held on in dramatic fashion to take down undefeated and No. 19 Florida 4-2.

“We really started down – losing the first game wasn’t too bad, but we came into the second game with no emotion,” Gumpf said. “We were going through the motions, and this is the type of team that has to play with energy. This team has a plan, and they need to follow that plan, to be that plan, every day. And that’s what they decided to do on Saturday and Sunday.”

Given their play in the first day’s games, and the caliber of opponents they were expected to face, Notre Dame was given an outside shot at best to win the tournament. But by the end of the weekend, the Irish had converted their doubters with three games of confident, aggressive play.

“It’s a confidence, it’s what you bring to the game,” Gumpf said. “When they bring that something extra, that something special, they can be a good team. They expected to come back, and that’s the best part.”

Notre Dame’s comeback performance was keyed by strong pitching performances from junior Heather Booth and senior Stephanie Stenglein. Steinglein threw a complete game three-hitter and struck out 10 while giving up only one earned run in the victory over No. 21 South Florida, and Booth scattered five hits with eight strikeouts against No. 19 Florida to clinch the title for the Irish. After starting shaky on Friday with both hurlers losing, the pitching, like the rest of the team, responded.

“Heather and Stephanie never pitched a bad game; they just didn’t complete their first games,” Gumpf said. “We made mistakes in the first game, but we played them tough. The second game, though, we came with nothing, and that was the turning point, the eye-opener. The team knows they don’t want to be in that position again – they know they’re a better team, and they want to prove it.”

While the pitchers played an important role, the resurgence in the second half of the tournament was undoubtedly a team effort.

“Our two pitchers kept the team in the ball game and set the tone, but the whole team was just different,” Gumpf said. “It wasn’t just one player; the whole team came out with an attitude, ready to fight. Everyone contributed. Each one gave the team a little bit more, and to win in the future, each girl is going to have to continue to give a little bit more.”

Perhaps more importantly than the tournament victory, the win gives the Irish much-needed energy heading into a difficult upcoming schedule.

“I think we couldn’t carry better momentum than what we have right now,” Gumpf said.

No matter who the Irish face in the future, their resilience in this weekend’s tournament has them pointed in the right direction for 2005.

“This team is on the right track,” Gumpf said. “I liked the way we finished the first tournament, and we hope to keep playing like this.”

The girls are capable – if they put their minds to it, they can accomplish anything they want.”